I Love the Indian Army

A Veteran Soldier's Story about the Government of India

As I see the increasing violence in India’s hinterland by the Naxals and the inevitability of the deployment of the Indian Army – I reflect on my musings on leaving the Army two years ago - when I left the South Block and the Government of India for good. 

I stumbled into the Indian Army in the late seventies. The school which admitted us mid-session, when we returned from Singapore, where my father had a brief teaching stint at the Singapore University, was The Army Public School, Dhaula Kuan. With teenage sons of Army officers as friends, it was natural to apply to join the National Defence Academy. A friend filled my form and even paid the application fee. I wasn’t serious at all of pursuing a career in the military - much like Hrithik Roshan in Lakshya. I saw a movie with my friends, after each of the four NDA entrance papers, and argued with my father when he questioned me on my lack of commitment to the exam.

Surprisingly, I qualified on the Service Selection Board standing 19th in the Army all India merit list. I then chose to join the National Defence Academy, as a career was assured at such an early age.

Astonishingly, within a few days of joining the National Defence Academy, at pristine Khadakwasala, I began my life long affection and admiration for the Indian Army. The NDA was awesome and I took to it as if the place was always meant for me. It was, and probably still is, a remarkable institution where everything works like clockwork, and boys transform into enthusiastic, self confident young men with fire in their belly and an idealistic vision to contribute meaningfully to the security challenges that India would face in the future.

Three years later at the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, I learnt that toughness and fitness was not just about well developed physical abilities, but also as much about mental strength, and that the IMA motto of ‘Service before Self’ was not some Gandhian mumbo-jumbo, but the very edifice of life in uniform as an officer.

The many years in my Infantry battalion were even more memorable. Not a day was spent as “work”. Every day was enjoyable with a huge family of 800 men; the love, respect and camaraderie was astonishing especially in this day and age. A life of great honesty of purpose; lived simply and with great pride, respect and honor.

I had a tour of duty in Kashmir in every rank I have held. As a Lieutenant in Baramulla before the militancy, as a Captain in the Siachen Glacier at 20,000 feet, as a Major and company commander in Kupwara fighting terrorists, and as Lt Col as second-in-command of my unit in Badgam in a counter insurgency deployment on the outskirts of the Srinagar airport. Finally as a Colonel and Battalion commander, I had three different innings in the Kashmir Valley, first as part of the offensive plans during OP PARAKRAM in 2001, then fighting militants in Anantnag during the 2002 Amarnath Yatra and during the state elections, and finally on the Line of Control in high altitude in the majestic Gurez Valley.

Interspersed between these challenging times was an opportunity to serve with the United Nations in Iraq-Kuwait as a Military Observer where I saw closely officers from 34 different nations from around the globe and learnt from them about their militaries and the relationship between the State and the soldier in other countries.

I also had instructional assignments at the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun and at the Infantry School teaching young infantry officers. I then had an enriching year at the Army War College at Mhow during the Higher Command course in 2004-5, learning the art of higher command in the military and traveling to every corner of the country, expanding knowledge, visiting not just our various military headquarters, but also the citadels of economic power of our nation.

After the one year sabbatical at Mhow, I moved, in Apr 2005 to a dream job, to the seat of power of the Army in Delhi – the Army Headquarters with an office in South Block and an appointment in the personnel Branch of the Army dealing with postings and promotions of officers of our Army.

After three years at Delhi, a Brigadiers rank was round the corner in mid 2008. The sixth Pay commission too was promising salaries to meet with the aspirations of soldiers and government officials who had been made to feel like poor cousins to their corporate friends in the galloping India of the 21st century.

In spite of such a bright future, I felt I must I leave the Indian Army.

The three years in the nation’s capital left me with a strange emptiness which refused to go away. All the years, I felt that the many years I spent away from my immediate family, in remote corners of India, were for a cause which was noble and worthwhile. I always felt huge pride for my soldiers and brother officers. I felt there is a grateful nation behind all of us stationed so far away, battling the vagaries of weather and the uncertainty of life.

I remember in Siachen, in 1988, just before we started our deployment on the main Glacier, the shy 17 year old soldier, no more than a kid, who met me, then the Adjutant, and requested me to be posted to the transport platoon after this tenure, as he was very fond of motor vehicles. Four days later, he was violently taken ill at Kumar our Headquarters at 16000 feet. We tended to him the whole night, as the helicopter could come to rescue him away only in the morning. Sadly, the High Altitude Pulmonary Odema which afflicted him was faster. He was dead before the copter arrived at the crack of dawn. It was a sad loss so soon after our induction on to the Glacier, but we took it on our chin as the accepted dangers of a soldier’s life. We shed not a tear, and proceeded to do our duty for the next six months, battling the odds and the enemy, in incredibly difficult conditions.

I recall when a soldier, who had slipped and fallen towards the enemy side was rescued at Bana top, at 20,000 feet by a brave and courageous officer who went across single handedly at grave risk to his life, to get him back. The soldier spent four hours exposed to temperatures of below minus 40 degrees C, (later both his arms were amputated). When I met him in the hospital a month later he said he knew that his company commander would come to rescue him. It taught me a lesson in trust, faith, camaraderie and leadership which I shall never forget for the rest of my life.

I also recall the young soldier who bravely jumped into a building, unrelentingly chasing three dreaded terrorists who had hidden there. We were on the outskirts of Srinagar airfield and fighting a fierce gun battle through the cold winter night in Dec 2000. He killed two of them but in the process was hit by a bullet through the head. He died in my arms. What was even more poignant was the gesture by his father when we honored him on our battalions Raising Day, the following year. In an age where money means everything, the old man broken by his young son’s loss, refused the money we as a unit of 800 had collected as a gesture of our sympathy and concern. He said he had no need for the money and the unit could put it to better use by honoring his brave son in any appropriate way.

What I observed over these three years at Delhi, unfortunately have been a sad revelation of the nature of the relationship between the Indian soldier, the State and the people of India. Like RK Laxman’s common man, I have observed silently the ignorance and apathy of the establishment towards all issues military.

As our expectations from our cricket team, we expect the very best from our military in critical moments of our history, like the 71 War or the Kargil conflict.

If we were to build our home, we shall obviously get the best builders and architects we can afford, if our mother was taken ill, we would look for the very best hospital and doctor that we can afford. The critical question is; do we do enough as a nation to ensure that we have the best military India can afford?

Are we as a nation doing enough to ensure that we have the best men and systems in place to guard our sovereignty and security interests? Do we do enough to recruit and retain the brightest men and do we have the structures in place to meet the security challenges within and across our borders in the coming years?

For a start, the inability to put in place an integrated Chief of Defence Staff is the foremost of our weaknesses and is symptomatic of the apathy and ignorance of military matters in modern India. It is often dismissed as a peripheral issue, one that can wait till the services themselves resolve it. The hard truth is that without true integration of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy, a modern military will be grossly inept and incapable of prosecuting a modern day war. To use the cricketing analogy a bit further, the Kargil war was T 20 cricket and can hide a few fatal flaws, but a full scale war will be like a Test match, only synergy; balance, close integration and team spirit will ensure success.

You cannot blame the Defence Secretary or the civilian staff in the Ministry of Defence for the lack of awareness of these issues - very often the Defence Secretary would not have a days experience in the ministry till he joins as the head of the Ministry of Defence. He may have arrived from the commerce, railways or whichever ministry, the senior most bureaucrat is available at that time. The Defence Minister too often has no experience on defence matters till he becomes the Defence Minister. It is like appointing a CEO in a telecom company who had spent all his life in the cement industry!

We cannot quite expect them to understand the vital need for integration of the Services. As a comparison to our system, the United States has a long tradition of appointing secretaries of Defence and Presidents who have spent years soldiering or they choose from retired Generals with vision and an impeccable record of service for these assignments. In fact, even in India it would be inconceivable for the Foreign Secretary to be appointed from amongst the bureaucrats in say the coal ministry, so this assumption that the defence ministry can be managed by amateurs is an insult and an affront to the security needs of India.

To cite another example, we have no clearly enunciated and documented national counter-terrorism policy. In a nation where the threat of terrorism looms larger with every passing day, it is a matter of shame that we haven’t formulated one yet. With the best minds in the Army, with years of experience in counter terrorism retiring every year, it is a pity we have failed to capitalize on their experience and set out a clearly laid out document. The alarming growth of the Maoists in the Red Corridor will test the ability of the Indian state to respond to this challenge in the coming years. Policing being a State subject and internal threats being the concerns of the Home Ministry, there is an urgent need to look at counter terrorism holistically outside the confines of individual perceptions of States and various ministries. We must radically alter the narrow confines of each ministry when we define the policy for internal threats. There is apparently a visible lack of statesmanship and professionalism on any macro issue concerning national security.

An oblique pointer to India’s concerns on national security and how embedded the military leader is in the psyche of the educated Indian is the representation at various Leadership summits and Conclaves. The ‘who is who’ of India and other countries are invariable present. There will be national political figures, corporate leaders, media barons, and of course movie mughals. So while we have the likes of Aiswarya Rai and Sharukh Khan telling us their take on leadership - the practicing military leader, whether a senior General or the young Major who is an Ashok Chakra winner - shining examples of leadership in its many hues - are conspicuous by their absence.

From our fiercely independent and vibrant media, one would have expected greater maturity in their coverage of security affairs. It is revealing that a study in the USA suggests that the gradual erosion of coverage of international issues by their media networks was possibly a reason for their flawed international security interventions as the American public was not capable or knowledgeable enough to question their leadership. The Indian media must ask itself - do they exhibit enough concern on the larger dimensions of national security and do they have enough knowledge of military affairs to fulfill their role as the watchdogs of the nation? Will the increasing trivialization and localization of news affect our security?

There are many such concerns that we must address as a military, as a society and as a nation. There are individual and collective responsibilities that we must fulfill. Will India and Indians meet the challenge of the future? Time, and the collective will of the nation, will tell.

The 26 years that I have spent in uniform in service of our country along with the most wonderful set of soldiers you can find anywhere on our planet, is a wonderful memory - but sadly- this country does not deserve this fine military.


More by :  Col. Gopal Karunakaran

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Views: 3435      Comments: 20

Comment This is really an inspiring read. few amazing take aways.
1) Young age may have uncertainty in thoughts and blurred vision towards future steps.
2) Enjoy where you are and that's how you will be a able to add learning automatically.
3) Being courageous is important step to be a future leader.
4) Nothing is in your hand, every situation will teach you something, move on.
5) Working in silos will only result in waste of resources, grow together and bring the change.
Thanks for the share sir.

Aparna Mishra
17-Apr-2021 06:10 AM

Comment This is really an inspiring read. few amazing take aways.
1) Young age may have uncertainty in thoughts and blurred vision towards future steps.
2) Enjoy where you are and that's how you will be a able to add learning automatically.
3) Being courageous is important step to be a future leader.
4) Nothing is in your hand, every situation will teach you something, move on.
5) Working in silos will only result in waste of resources, grow together and bring the change.
Thanks for the share sir.

Aparna Mishra
17-Apr-2021 05:57 AM

Comment This is a wonderful, inspiring post. As an army child myself, so much resonated with me. A salute to you for your selfless service, Sir.

18-Jul-2020 23:16 PM

Comment It shows how committed you still are to have been an army man and we should imbibe the values which ensure proper care be taken to have the best men in the best profession

Debjani banerjee
05-Jan-2019 01:36 AM

Comment Sir
It is a very well written article and raises many pertinent questions.
I am , and shall always remain , indebted to our wonderful forces for their constant vigilance so that we , the common populace , may sleep peacefully in our beds......... though I feel the internal conflicts have seriously endangered this peace......
Without struggle there is no growth.... This is a major reason why todays youth , inspite of having many more oppotunities , still feels a void..... we are making life too comfortable for them .
Till the age of 21-22 he needs to be grilled ... faced with challenges... where are they ? How will they become accountable ? Respectful ? Disciplined ?They have theories , they have ideas , they have dreams ; They dont have Discipline to channelise their they dont have vision......
Everyone cannot go into the forces to find this discipline ..... Schools need to fulfill this role , where unfortunately they are lacking... they take the soft and easy way out.
Also , I firmly believe that we , common people , cannot belittle ourselves..... Each and every day we fight our own battles ; and each and every day I come across heroic people who have fought their demons and won in life.....

14-Apr-2016 03:18 AM

Comment Sir, You have mirrored the realities so genuinely and I pray these reflections seep into the system to be able to transform and lead to an awakening. Great write up !!!

Manisha lal
28-Jan-2016 23:32 PM

Comment Col Karuna's write up is very fullfilling.One feels blessed to have served in our forces with some major and some minor touching incidents throughout one's forces career. In his case he has gone through many which, in itself are so fullfilling that getting into rut after such a evenfull life would be nullyfying all our achivements and contributions.. and landing into a real darkness...., Hovever few who dare ,deserve equal if not more credit to have taken a plunge and with will can always add on to their accumulated positives.....albeit the % is really low ????

From all angle the write up is a gem of a piece and even the comments are priceless, mostly written from heart for whatever real life events one has gone through...

At last this does not free us from our responsibilty to do service towards our have not masses.Also some proactive role is needed even after leaving the uniform, in spreadig our ethoes and culture of appolitical,non religious and non coloured views and more so the life style,amongst the surroundig and masses....

Col Devanand Roy(Retd)

Col Devanand Foy
11-Nov-2013 13:18 PM

Comment Sir, It is really fantastic . This article makes me think about the ground reality and the risk factor of a soldier's life.

30-May-2013 13:16 PM

Comment An eye opener for a civilian like me.

anjali kumar
29-May-2013 10:23 AM

Comment An excellent piece of heart & soul from a soldier. The Indian Army senior hierarchy requires to wake up & stop being spineless. Mr. Kannan requires to understand that all three services are proud and important in their own way/roles.They will integrate under one command only if the concept is embraced.( Believe me it will take a day !! and not days/months/years). We've got to reform the political system to have experts at the helm of ministries in Delhi.

27-Mar-2013 15:57 PM

Comment A well-written, insightful piece straight from the heart....hope it finds the bull's- eye!!!

27-Feb-2013 12:27 PM

Comment a good one gopal .
few days back one of my friend forwarded ur article to me. v r just back from Dubai. soldiers feelings are always close to our heart. v have always seen the best and worst of both sides- civil and defense services.

01-Feb-2013 02:53 AM

Comment I know EXACTLY what you are talking about ...after all we had some interesting moments together on the back end of the 6th floor in Sena Bhawan. It was probably the worst place to post a motivated soldier- where you learnt that the nation, for which you would give your life and blood without a moments thought, thinks of you as an expendable commodity.

While I am glad that we saw the light, I am equally sorry for the effect it had on each of us. We lost a wonderful senior officer when you left, a void that will be filled by mediocrity and yesmanship that is omnipresent in the service today.

Sunil K Singh
01-Feb-2013 01:07 AM

Comment Sir, my sincere regards. How is my Basic DS & Pl Cdr ,Zozila coy, 1989-90,86th Reg. What a remembrance,after such a long time though the memories are still so fresh, full of energy & JOSH. Gone through the complete article and for sure such great and touching thoughts can only come from Karunakaran Sir. I 'm sincerely touched and it has certainly taken me back to academy days. I sincerely wish some body in the hierarchy takes cognisance of solders concerns in the right perspective. Hem Singh Nagar

Hem Singh Nagar
29-Jan-2013 09:31 AM

Comment In the lighter vein it is the posting to New Delhi which makes one choose to leave I guess.I cannot boast of the high credentials that Col Karunakaran has mentioned, but my resolve to leave also commenced when I was posted with the MOD, and cemented when I put in my papers on the last day of my Command.It is in Delhi one really realises what a shallow world we live in. All of us at least till the Colonels, sorry Commanding Officers rank do believe in the army ethos, espirit de corps etc and practice it. I really dont know where it diminishes there after.One of the instances at Delhi being , where I have personally seen a Two Star General who walked using a walking stick through out his tenure, making more trips to a JS office than doing the job at hand and finally retiring as a DGRR.An Army three star General, who after Brigadiers rank continued to be in Delhi and be promoted as two star and three star general, without commanding a Division/ Corps. Exposure to such events and many more which are unique only and seen only in Delhi ,make you at times resolve to say bye bye to the very profession you loved cherished then and do even now.Our soldiers and our young officers, one thing I can bet my last dime are the finest and we are lucky to have them.

29-Jan-2013 05:51 AM

Comment A very well written article and straight from the heart. I do hope someone in the govt reads and takes cognizance of the points made.

Madhu Gopinath
29-Jan-2013 02:12 AM

Comment According to the security of a Nation all the patriots should be dedicated, determined and devoted in their contributions. The article expose the truth which every sincere, determined officers now feels and pity on the present democratic attitude towards the Nation's security. Who is responsible for this? Can the present system to overcome these crisis ? As he quoted the present army management system should be changed - "We cannot quite expect them to understand the vital need for integration of the Services. As a comparison to our system, the United States has a long tradition of appointing secretaries of Defence and Presidents who have spent years soldiering or they choose from retired Generals with vision and an impeccable record of service for these assignments" - to this line of control. Let the Parliament to think over it for a better security system for our Nation to face any threats.

Brave thoughts ..
Jai jawan

Mohandas Muthalpuredeth
29-Jan-2013 01:33 AM

Comment I tend agree with the last comment. Stop whining. No, I do not mean Col. Karunakaran., He has written a perceptive article and from his heart. I am also ex-NDA and served 26 years in the Indian Navy. And I have been outside in the non-fauji set ups for last 18 years of which last 5 years have been in a teaching job. The populace is all for the fauji without exception. We have to reach out to them. Why can not our Generals and Admirals go for these leadership seminars? I agree with Gopal. In very few profession one gets chance to practice leadership like in the fauj. So go and tell the world. Let us get out of the cushy cantonment mindset. And this integration business. If three Chiefs want it, who can stop them? But do they want it? To conclude, the fauj needs to save nation's psyche from the decline it faces today - not by a military coup, never, but by more proactive interaction with the non-fauji world which is also Indian like the faujis are. So Col. Gopal you could go to schools and colleges and start talking to students as a start. Then could come Lions and Rotarians.

Commodore HA Gokhale
21-Jan-2013 11:54 AM

Comment I am a Fourth Generation Military Officer. I have spent 32 years in the Elite of the Indian Army – The Airborne Forces. I can’t help but agree with Gopal here. “I have observed silently the ignorance and apathy of the establishment towards all issues military” – it’s so true what he says. Our Government is pathetic in its perceptions of military affairs. We have no strategic thinking or sense. We are poorly equipped and a Pak oriented Army. We have weak kneed governments playing vote bank politics leaving the country floundering in security affairs. We have blasphemed our security at the hands of incompetent politicians and babus. It’s about time we woke up to the realities of the international strategic and political issues. We are sapped for a strong and a directional leadership in the country. It seems our 60 year experiment in democracy has failed. We continue to be the largest illiterate democracy in the world. The Army too is to blame for being too lame. We are spineless when it comes to dealing with the government. The Army is run by a class of Wellington Graduates who apart from being ambitious are just glorified promotion seeking babus who love to create needless paperwork and finally get mired in their own doing . Blow with the wind is their motto, don’t ruffle the feathers. So it’s both sides of the coin that are blame worthy.

JP Singh
19-Jan-2013 11:28 AM

Comment who stoped the services for not integrating. I have seen from close quarters if a group of three service officers from army, navy and airforce are present each will try to show off he is the most important. do you know the plight of civilians working in the three services. it reminds the days of the british raj.
stop cribbing first integrate yourself as a service element and then look forward

19-Apr-2011 08:43 AM

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